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One educator’s perspective on school violence: ‘This could have been us’

On Oct. 29, a 16-year-old student shot and killed another 16-year-old student before classes began at Butler High School. I followed the media reports via Twitter while planning for the day at Garinger High, 12 miles down the road from Butler. It’s hard to express the weight of dread that comes with that proximity.

Of the 23 school shootings in the United States this year, the incident was the only one so close to home. You can try to suppress the fear, but when it envelops the hallways, the teacher’s lounge, the staff parking lot — you’re forced to confront it:

“This could have been us.”

The next afternoon, another Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school was forced to respond to a tip of a weapon on campus. The school’s administrative team quickly located the student in question, moved him to an isolated area, instructed the school resource officer to conduct a search of his belongings, located a gun, and made an arrest without incident. A 16-year-old student was charged with four offenses, including the possession of a gun on educational property. He was my student, and he was supposed to be finishing my English midterm at the time of his arrest.

Our district is no stranger to dealing with weapons on campus. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools reported the confiscation of 19 guns during the 2016-2017 term, the latest for which data is available. The incident on Oct. 30 was my second of similar nature in 2018.

Despite what that data may suggest, the district has prioritized addressing school safety and security. In April’s proposed budget recommendation, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox outlined more than $9.2 million for “school security enhancements,” which included the fortification of school campuses and hiring of additional mental health and law enforcement specialists. In mid-October, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners approved $4.6 million for phase one of that security plan. Beginning in January, CMS security personnel will use electronic wands to conduct random, unannounced searches at high schools.

Every school has a stringent safety plan in place. Every school has procedures for what to do in case of an active shooter or need to lockdown campus. Every school has dedicated teachers, administrators, and support staff who work tirelessly to ensure student and adult safety. At Garinger, we have a psychologist, psychiatrist, two social workers, parent advocates, eight administrators, and 100+ instructors providing wraparound, personalized support to every student who crosses our path.

But here we are.

It’s not constructive to politicize it, to patch it up with band-aids, to pass blame from the schools to the parents to the lawmakers. Our communities, both affluent and impoverished, are suffering from complex violent crime and mental health crises that require collective action for the sake of our children. Waiting to discuss those issues until they appear at our classroom doors accomplishes little more than helping us master the art of mourning.

Greg Asciutto

Formally trained in digital journalism, Greg Asciutto teaches and manages English department operations at Garinger High School in Charlotte. Outside of the classroom, Asciutto works in the field of poverty alleviation, specifically as it intersects with public mental health and homelessness. As a North Carolina native, his vision is to build regional partnerships that foster economic opportunities for local youth and their families.